I get great kicks from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all: the last time I had a cocktail I woke up under a grand piano. But seriously, why champagne? It’s not to be snobby. Simply put, I like it but it is always a luxury. Champagne is the drink of reward, of misery, of celebration. Drinkable diamonds, liquid money, tipsy happiness, champagne is a party in my mouth and a gift in a bottle. A popping cork is ballistic laughter. Champagne is like you: beautiful under pressure.
This is why in the next 18 months, I’ll be spitting and swirling and quaffing and maybe occasionally swallowing on behalf of Civilian all things sparkling and liquid. That includes sparkling sake and particularly lush examples from England, California, Nova Scotia and beyond. But be sure, champagne is always French. With help from masters of wine you either know, or should know. I’m here to be a tolerable know-it-all who can speak an understandable phenomenological language (i.e. name what you taste so other people can understand it too – otherwise you’re not using language as such).
Drinkable diamonds, liquid money, tipsy happiness, champagne is a party in my mouth and a gift in a bottle
Coming from a non-drinking family, champagne is the one drink I sip without regret. Nothing thrills me as much as good champagne – or a great sparkling wine. All my drinking has led me to tastings – which are not drinking, trust me. Now, you and I both know “bubbles” or “fizz” doesn’t equal champagne. Only champagne is Champagne, if Ben Dreyer would approve that sentence. There is no such thing as “real champagne” because all champagne is real by dint of its carefully protected appellation. Picking a bottle is incredibly complex so I advise anyone in London to come along to Australian champagne guru Tyson Steltzer’s mega-tasting event Taste Champagne London 2020. “Every year, 4159 champagne growers, 395 houses, and 42 coopératives lob some 302 million bottles into the world.” I quote Stelzer from his annual bible The Champagne Guide 2020-2021. Champagne is a vast topic and I’ll be covering the second installation of Steltzer’s champagne extravaganza in March 2020 on location in London. Tickets may still be available! Taste Champagne will have over 300 cuvées so it is the best place to start seriously tasting, thinking, talking and spitting.
Yes, you have to spit.
So as long as you’re in London already, stick around for April for a different vibe. It’s the anti-snob Glass of Bubbly tasting mecca. Created by Eve and Christopher Walkey, Glass of Bubbly is a welcoming, relaxed one-stop arena for champagnes and sparkling wines you may not taste elsewhere. “As Glass of Bubbly (magazine and awards) has evolved, lesser known sparkling wine labels have really taken to our unopinionated style of marketing. Not only small wineries want to work with us; we also get the big names too,” says Eve.
Of the 40 wines I took notes on during one afternoon last year, my favourite was a sparkling rose from Austria. If it hadn’t been a blind tasting, I would have not believed it myself. After begging Eve and Chris to take the blinder off the bottle, my drink of dreams was a Schlumberger Rosé Klassik 2016, available in Austria for about €14 a bottle. Of all the wines I spat that day, this juicy, crisp rosé would have delighted anyone with its cheerful taste and gorgeous colour. Austrian friends may have rolled their eyes. “Schlumberger! That’s not what I would expect!” But such is the power of the unpretentious Glass of Bubbly, where you taste things people wouldn’t believe.
I will be aggressively elbowing people away from the spit buckets in tastings featuring sparklers from Germany, Slovakia, Italy, Spain and more. I’ll be quaffing and spitting so you can make better, more confident noises when you’re looking at a row of bottles. So, I won’t quote Dom Perignon and say “Come quickly. I’m tasting the stars.” We all know Marilyn Monroe said that. C